Thursday, June 25, 2009

Flight, The introductory four drawings

1. The series starts with a silhouetted cat sitting in a window looking out at the moon. Together they loosely form a Yin-Yang symbol. Formed by the black cat, Yin originally meant shady, secret, dark and mysterious -consistent with the sense of eeriness I wanted to convey. I also wanted to create a cyclical quality to the series by beginning and ending it with the waiting cat. In addition, the window is framed by moonlit curtains. Ah, what can I say? I had foresaid it myself:

Summer's path has led to winter's threshold.
Its entrance moonlit as foresaid.
Enter gravely or with revelry bold
for with you, also pass the dead.

2. Between the moon and cat in the next drawing is the white owl mask worn by a trick or treater. The two other people are from photos of my daughter and her daughter. The story begins to move forward as the cat moves toward the open doorway. With moon lighted curtains (see above).

3. The third drawing associates the cat with a skull and pumpkins. One little tidbit I learned in my readings, jack-o-lanterns were carved originally to imitate a skull. (See ‘Yin’ above). Descending the stairs begins another cyclical pattern. After ascending another set of staircases, the cat will fly further upward, and then descend back to earth –completing a circle by moving downward, upward, further upward, then down.

4. The fourth drawing moves the story further ahead. By some 15 yards. Symbolism? You betcha. The house’s entrance is flanked by skeleton and ghost decorations -one physical death, the other spiritual existence after death. A small statue of a crow stands atop the railing post on the side of the hanging skeleton and a statue of an owl (see above) on the other. Dare I also mention the little silhouetted decorations in the lawn? Or the left-right positioning of the two trick or treaters? No, I better not.

I tried mightily to be consistent with all views of the window, doorway and stairs. I also tried to be consistent throughout the series regarding the moon’s direction and rate of rising in the course of the evening. I should post a warning here –ahead is sheer obsessiveness. I confess, I made a map of the cat’s path through the streets leading up to the cemetery’s entrance. Basically, the cat is heading north and east while the moon rises and moves westward. For the most part, the house and its decorations are based on photographs I took in Moline on Halloween, 2008.

One more warning. When I speak of positioning a cat with a moon to form a symbol, that is only one facet of my decision making or ways in which one can read their relationship. To a very great extent, I put the two together because they look right. To look right, to feel right, they have to have a pleasing contour separately and collectively; a clarity of value contrast; the right emphasis within a dominance hierarchy. They need, in short, to work with all of the drawing’s compositional strategies. They also have to strike the right tone and mood. Any object has many cultural, pragmatic and personal meanings. Simply putting two things together creates an even more dizzying number. So when I speak of symbolism, it is the most conscientious –or at least, the easiest to articulate- association that sits atop a bubbling cauldron of other associations and considerations.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Why Halloween? Why Flight?

Hello Pope One. Hello Pope Two.

Halloween Flight is a series of twenty-eight graphite drawings I began working on in the summer of 2007. From the beginning, I wanted the series to convey a sense of eeriness. I loved Halloween when I was a kid, in part, because of the sense of venturing out into a dark, strange world away from the familiarity and safety of home. Coming back with the loot was the other part. In many ways, the series is about making the familiar strange and the strange familiar.

For the past two years, I've also read a pile of books I gathered about the history of Halloween and symbolism. As I read, I collected a pretty extensive amount of information and developed a symbolic undercurrent to the story. All of the costumes are archetypes such as skeletons or owls for this reason. No Barbara Bush masks. No Squidward Q. Tenacles costumes. I also felt this gave the story a more timeless quality. There are also no parked cars or traffic. For that matter, there are no names or words on street signs or gravestones.

Most background images in the series are houses, streets and objects I photographed around town -usually in the daytime. I even lived in a couple of these houses. Some of the drawings are composed from as many as a dozen of these photo sources, including lots of spooky trees.

As I intend to publish these drawings in book form, I also paired the drawings as facing pages on the website. The cat or crow appear only once across the facing pages with two exceptions: at the beginning when I’m trying to establish that the cat is leaving the house; and when the cat and crow are transformed. I didn’t place either across the center of the five larger drawings because these drawings will be divided in the middle when printed. It was both a limitation and an opportunity to create images in which both halves had to work as separate images, yet tie together as a single composition.

Initially I titled the series, Halloween’s Other Moon. This came from a short poem about the moon following me when I was young. Though I -eventually- figured out it was an illusion, I still retain my childhood image of the moon –the other moon. As I continued to read about symbolism, I learned that Other Moon was an astrology term tied to Lilith. In her own right, Lilith is a fascinating figure. She is a night demon in Jewish lore and an owl in the King James Bible. Versatile, eh? She is also a symbol of death. However, alluding to her name in the title would, in affect, make us see the whole series through the lens of her mythology.

I decided on Halloween Flight last fall. It obviously refers directly to the transformation of the cat into a crow halfway through the series. However, I also liked the connotation of a flight of fancy and flight as in fleeing. In addition, it also created a fresher image for me than Halloween moon.

So... who am I writing to?

As I'm starting to write, this question has imposed itself. I know that my kids and parents (hi Mom) will check in. As will a trickling of friends, colleagues, students and people poking around the internet at 3:00 am (howdy stranger). Could I speak to such a gathering without reconsidering every word as it is uttered? Not really.

So I'll be writing to the first two guys in the Changelings series. The guys in the pope hats. Jimmy Durante had his Mrs. Calabash. Franny her fat lady. I have my two iffy pontiffs.

Hello both Popes!